Removal Follows Protests Against Gandhi Statues in USA
ACCRA, Ghana—After over a decade of resistance to placement of Gandhi statues around the world began brewing in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2003, the University of Ghana is taking an historical step to remove a recently erected sculpture.
On Oct. 5, Ghana’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs finally responded to “the campaign to have the state of Mahatma Gandhi removed… on grounds of racist comments,” announcing: “The government would, therefore want to relocate the statue from the University of Ghana to ensure its safety and to avoid the controversy on the Legon Campus.”
Installed in June during a state visit to Ghana by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, the statue immediately sparked controversy as university faculty started a petition calling it “a slap in the face that undermines our struggles for autonomy, recognition and respect.” Nearly 1,800 people joined their names to the petition for removal, which described Gandhi’s “racist identity” as an attorney in South Africa.
“We are pleased that the Ghana Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration want to remove the statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from the University of Ghana campus,” commented the petitioners for removal. “We are sure that as more Ghanaians and other nationals become privy to more recent information on Gandhi’s writings, work, and life, they will conclude, as we have done, that statements attributed to him are not mere allegations and are thus worthy of deep discomfort by all peace-loving Pan-Africanists and Indians who share the ideals of president Kwame Nkrumah and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.”
Similar statues are prompting outrage for the same reasons, including in California.
“Banishing the Gandhi statue from University of Ghana is an historic achievement,” says Bhajan Singh, who recently participated in a demonstration for removal of another Gandhi statue recently installed in Davis, CA. “It’s a victory for truth and freedom. And our hope is that, after this first time in the world that the false prophet has fallen from his pedestal, all educational institutions will follow Ghana’s courageous example by removing every glorification of Gandhi.”
As founding director of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), Bhajan has coordinated campaigns since 2008 to persuade people to stop honoring Gandhi. In 2010, he hosted the first protest against a Gandhi statue in the United States, joining a dozen others outside the San Francisco Ferry Building. In coverage by The San Francisco Times, he said: “The popular image of Gandhi as an egalitarian pacifist is a myth. We plan to challenge that myth by disseminating Gandhi’s own words to expose his racism and sham nonviolence.”
On Oct. 2 — Gandhi’s birthday — Bhajan was one of around 75 who protested at the unveiling of a new statue in Davis.
Demonstrators in 2010, according to the Times, demanded the San Francisco statue be replaced by one of either Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or low-caste Dalit leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
Dalits — formerly known as “Untouchables” and treated as subhuman within the caste system practiced by India’s Hindu majority — are also outspoken against Gandhi statues. In 2010, the Ambedkar Association of North America protested for removal of a statue at University of Michigan—Flint. On Oct. 2, they coordinated another protest against that statue to coincide with the Davis demonstration, wielding signs saying Gandhi “praised casteism as scientific” and condemning “caste apartheid” in India.
Statues of the Hindu icon have cropped up all across the world since his assassination in 1947. Opponents of the statues often cite connections between Gandhi’s racism in South Africa and support for the caste system in India. In Ghana, for instance, the petition to removal explained: “Gandhi also campaigned against the efforts of the Dalits, the Black ‘Untouchables’ of India, and for the maintenance of the caste system right up to his death.” Today he is known, said the petition, “for his role in the establishment of the infamous caste-like apartheid system.”
“Forcing Gandhism down the throats of African nations by linking food and educational aid to accepting his statues is repugnant,” remarks Bhajan. “Selling Gandhi as an icon of peace spells trouble when he participated in every war in his life, was denied the Nobel Peace Prize five times, and raped his own nieces as an old man. The statue should be returned to India, and we hope African leaders verify its return as they refuse to bow to this racist symbol.”
Pieter Friedrich, an advisor to OFMI who has promoted revisionist history about Gandhi at rallies and universities throughout the United States, pledges a continued struggle. “One Gandhi idol of a thousand is about to be toppled in Ghana,” says Friedrich. “We are impatiently awaiting the very hour of its removal. Justice will prevail, but our labors are just beginning as Gandhi must fall from every college and university in the world.”
By his count, Gandhi statues stand on at least 9 higher-education campuses in the U.S. — and many others elsewhere. Most of the statues are paid for by the Indian government, notes Friedrich, including the one installed in June at Ghana’s oldest university as well as a brand-new one installed on Oct. 2 at Utrecht University, one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands.
Dr. G.B. Singh, author of the 2009 expose Gandhi Under Cross-Examination, praises the decision for removal of “racist Gandhi,” stating: “Faculty members under the leadership of Prof. Ampofo, Prof. Perbi, Dr. Appiagyei-Atua, and Dr. Kambon have achieved a first historical feat: demolition of a Gandhi statue.” A retired U.S. Army colonel who has written about Gandhi for years, he wants to see the removal serve as a catalyst, saying, “My hope is that this commitment of said faculty will stay on course with other activists focusing to demolish other Gandhi statues scattered in Africa and at public places in other continents.”
News that Ghana’s Gandhi statue will be removed was also widely welcomed on Twitter with comments under the hashtag #GandhiMustFall stating “Ghana has some guts,” “we cannot accept a sanitized, glossed over, one-dimensional version of history,” and “about time people realised Gandhi to be an abuser of women, children & racist towards blacks.”
Ghana has some guts! #GandhiMustFall
— A A Mohamoud (@AliMohamoud) October 7, 2016
#GandhiMustFall because we cannot accept a sanitized, glossed over, one-dimensional version of history
— safiya (@safiyamky) October 7, 2016
— Sue (@SueKiri) October 6, 2016